NASCAR may not be the most popular sport in North
America but History shows us that that doesn't amount to a hill of beans
in the video gaming world.
The sport of NASCAR has never been very well received here
in the United States, or anywhere around the world for that matter. The
thought of cars driving around a gigantic loop for 500 miles has never
appealed (nor should it appeal) to the vast majority of the populous.
With NASCAR Heat, Infogrames took a chance and attempted to put a realistic
spin on a slightly arcade based racing engine. While the idea isn't all
bad, it does present quite a challenge to the development team and sadly,
the dev team masterminding NASCAR Heat didn't quite possess the know-how
to make Heat a winner in the larger percentage of Xbox owners.
As with all Xbox games, the first that you'll notice is
the graphics… but in NASCAR Heat, that isn't a good thing. At first glance
the in game visuals an absolute treat with true to life tracks and cars,
which are very nicely lit throughout the race. During the course of the
game you'll have the distinct pleasure of zipping through day and night
races on tons of true to life tracks that have all the same nooks and
crannies as their real life counterparts. Unfortunately for Heat the
beauty is only skin deep.
While racing through the game you'll have the option (the
default setting is the X button) to activate a rear view mirror at your
leisure. While this is a great idea in theory, the graphics engine simply
cannot maintain the polygon output which is required which subsequently
ends in a complete shutdown of the game's frame rate. Throw in the car
damage screen which is controlled by the white button and the position
meter which is controlled by the black button and you've got yourself
one of the inexplicably slowest moving racing games ever made.
One of the biggest graphical touches that I was looking
forward to in this game was the addition of a full 43-car field. Something
that has been simply impossible on consoles of generation's past. Yet
again, an excellent idea in theory, but the graphics engine of Heat simply
will not allow for it. The details on the opposing cars are impressive
in their own right but the inability to hold a constant frame rate is
a real shame.
The gameplay department is fairly straightforward… turn
left, and keep turning left until the race is over. It's a NASCAR game
and the racing is fairly repetitive, which isn't necessarily a bad thing,
and in some instances in the game can actually be quite fun.
The Championship Mode (a.k.a Season Mode) is where the meat
of the game is found. You'll pick from one of twenty-seven all-star drivers
and race through a total of 31 races in the exact order and style as
your NASCAR idols. You'll have the full list of customizable options
for your car, right down to the weight distribution on each tire and
the gear ratios to fine tune your racing performance. The only fallback
that I could find with the Championship Mode is the inability to go back
and change the difficulty setting once you've begun racing. I foolishly
jumped right into the Championship Mode and selected easy as my difficulty
setting. Being the incredibly skilled driver that I am (that's what my
friends let me believe) I breezed right through all 31 races without
losing a single competition.
Despite my immediate propensity to head straight for the
Championship Mode, the most fun that I had with Heat was found in the
Beat the Heat mode. This mode consists of you working your way through
a ton of amusing challenges set in six separate categories (basics, passing,
rivals, reflex, advanced, and the king). Each category presents you with
a host of challenges that rise in difficulty as you progress through
the game. Another neat tidbit added in by Infogrames is the introduction
of each challenge by either NASCAR announcer Allen Bestwick (don't feel
bad if you don't know who he is) or some of the real superstars that
we all grew up watching.